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JeM chief Maulana Masood had hand in Pathankot terror strike

Pakistan-based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief Maulana Masood Azhar and his brother Abdul Rauf Asghar, mastermind of IC-814 hijack case, are among four persons identified by Indian intelligence agencies as 'handlers' behind the recent Pathankot attack.

Besides the agencies claimed to have found evidence that "conspiracy" was hatched near Lahore, top government sources said on Thursday. The details of the four persons have been shared with Pakistan "through proper channel" and India has pressed for stern action against them as a condition for any future talks with Pakistan, the sources claimed.

National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval is understood to have spoken to his Pakistani counterpart ex-General Nasser Khan Janjua and shared all relevant evidences, including voice data, they said.

The evidence alleging JeM's involvement in the recent attack may put a question mark on the scheduled Foreign Secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan in Islamabad on January 15.

Those identified by Indian agencies are Azhar, Rauf, Ashfaq and Kashim, sources said. Rauf was mastermind of hijack of Air India plane in Kathmandu in 1999 which was later taken to Kandahar in Afghanistan. The eight-day hijack crisis had ended after the release of three hardcore militants, including Azhar in exchange for the freedom of passengers and crew members who were held hostage.

Asked as to what action India wants Pakistan to take against these four, the sources said they have to be arrested and handed over to New Delhi. 

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has recently said there are indications that some of the materials used by the terrorists were made in Pakistan.

Six terrorists, who had sneaked into the country from Indo-Pak border, had attacked the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot on the intervening night of January 1 and 2.

They were killed during a counter-operation by Indian forces that lasted for about three days in which seven security personnel were killed.

Meanwhile, Punjab's border districts of Gurdaspur and Pathankot remained on high alert and security forces conducted extensive search operations for the second day (Thursday) in the wake of suspicion that some terrorists had sneaked in to carry out an attack.

Residents of a village near Tibri cantonment of Gurdaspur district had on Wednesday reported that two men in Army uniform were seen moving in a suspicious manner, following which the Army and the police began the search operation.

Gurdaspur was targeted by Pakistani terrorists in July last year when a police station was attacked. Significantly, a day before the Pathankot attack, there were reports that four-five terrorists were seen after an SP was allegedly abducted.

"The two border districts of Gurdaspur and Pahankot are on high alert," said Gurdaspur SSP Gurpreet Singh Toor.

Not ruling out the possibility of terrorists hiding, he said, "We are not taking any chance and complete sanitisation will be carried out. Suspicion of possible terrorists is there.... We have cordoned off the entire area and combing operations are going on to sanitise it completely." However, he added that no suspicious movement was noticed adjacent to Tibri cantonment on Thursday.

He said security agencies are on their toes and a combing operation is being carried out around Tibri military cantonment area. "All vehicles and people, in and around the area, are being physically checked," Toor said, adding the situation is under control.

A farmer, Satnam Singh, of Pandher village was the first one to claim of having seen two men in Army uniform moving in suspicious manner when he was working in the fields, the police had said.

Pandher village is located one-and-a-half km away from the Tibri cantonment. The police immediately swung into action and reported the matter to Army and a joint search operation was launched.

There were also reports that five terrorists had sneaked into the border area of Gurdaspur and Pathankot, following which army formations have been put on alert, officials said.
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